What I didn't mention was that the Templers had also purchased land in Mount Carmel and had established a colony there in 1868. These Templer colonists built an attractive tree-lined main street, 30 meters wide. The houses, designed by architect Jacob Schumacher, were built of stone, with red-shingled roofs, instead of the typical Israeli flat roof design. Hard work, the harsh climate and epidemics claimed the lives of many before the colony became self-sustaining. So Hardegg stayed in Haifa, while Hoffmann established a colony in Sarona near Jaffa a year later in 1871.
The German Templers of Sarona focused on agriculture and small industry in a northern suburb of Jaffa. These first German settlers purchased 60 hectares of land from a Greek monastery, quickly followed by laying the foundations for the first houses. As in the Haifa colony, diseases like malaria caused the deaths of 20% of the 125 Sarona colonists during 1872. In an effort to soak up the marshy land, 1,300 eucalyptus trees were planted. One of the most important buildings in Sarona was the Community House, dedicated in 1873 to accommodate the local school.
By the 1880s 269 people lived in Sarona. As well as the communal hall, here were 41 homes, a cavern-based winery, workshops and barns. The colonists were not replicating Biblical simplicity – they brought modern farming practices to the Holy Land, and focused on crops and products that could be marketed for a profit. First they organised grain crops and dairy products, then orchards and vineyards. Once the large winery was opened, Sarona’s wines were marketed in Germany. The milk, cheese, butter and meat were sold in Jaffa. So market-oriented was Sarona that when Jewish wineries began to pose strong competition, the German colonists of Sarona re-planted their vineyards with citrus.
Original stone houses in Sarona
built in the 1870s and 1880s
renovated from 2003-2013
Sarona's lily ponds and gardens
Faced with a shortage of financial resources for infrastructure development, the community introduced Frondienst, a compulsory work system where every male member was required to do a fixed number of hours of community work each month - building of roads, development of land, drainage and community facilities. In some important ways this type of commune predicted the kibbutzim that were soon to cover the Holy Land.
In Nov 1917 British troops occupied Sarona, turning the community house into a field hospital for military use. In July 1918, the British interned 850 Templers near Cairo. Once Israel became part of the British Mandate in 1919, International charity organisations took up their cause; in July 1920 270 internees were repatriated to Bad Mergentheim in Germany. Then the House of Lords in London permitted the remaining internees to return to Sarona in 1921, even the Templers who had been exiled to Egypt. The residents returned to a colony ruined by British soldiers and following negotiations with the British authorities, compensation was eventually paid.
Surprisingly after the chaos of WW1 the settlement flourished under the British Mandate. Agricultural areas expanded and new houses were built in a modern, international style. By 1925 Sarona was still a small settlement, although growing. It was a farming community that also had an emphasis on trades. With hundreds of thousands of Jewish migrants arriving from Eastern Europe, the settlement prospered due to a keen Jewish market, ready for Sarona’s produce and services.
After the Nazis came to power in 1933, all international schools of German language financed by the German government's funds were obliged to redraw their educational programmes and employ teachers aligned with the Nazi party. The swastika was used as a symbol in all such institutions.
But the worst tragedy only became visible once WW2 started, and Sarona became a Nazi stronghold. The mayor of Sarona, Gotthilf Wagner, was a virulent Nazi and he encouraged a number of the Templers to become active members of the Nazi Party. The British naturally declared the German Templers to be enemy nationals.
Wherever active Nazi Germans lived in the Holy Land, they were interned by the British in Sarona, Wilhelma, Bethlehem of Galilee and Waldheim. Sarona itself held c1,000 persons behind a high barbed-wire fence. Wilhelma, another German Templer colony near Jaffa, took more of the remaining Sarona residents..
In July 1941 188 people from Sarona were deported to Australia and interned in Tatura Internment Camp in Central Victoria until 1947. Why did Australia accept these enemy prisoners? It would appear that the British could get no-one else to receive them, so the British Government leant on its most loyal ex-colony. Due to unsafe conditions in the Holy Land after the war, the Templers who had been interned in Tatura were offered the option of starting a new life in Australia or returning to Germany. Templers who were still in Palestine during the war, or in Germany, were also able to emigrate to Australia.
In December 1947, just as all British soldiers left the greater Tel Aviv region for home, the British handed over the Sarona camp to the municipality. Thus Sarona became the first military camp under the independent command of the IDF/Israeli defence forces.
When the British Mandate ended and the State of Israel was established in May 1948, the complex temporarily housed some of the original government ministries. [Jerusalem was Israel’s capital, but it was a city under siege until December 1949]. From then, until its reopening, Sarona housed the headquarters of the Israel Defence Forces. After a few year, the State of Israel paid hefty compensation to property owners whose assets had been nationalised.
Sarona Market, Tel Aviv
German war cemetery
Tatura Internment Camp
With the rapid growth of Tel Aviv, Sarona became prime real-estate in the very heart of a huge city. When plans for redeveloping the area were proposed in the mid-1970s, preservationists successfully campaigned against demolition because of the town’s unique heritage value. And since 2003, the Tel Aviv municipality’s restoration of Sarona progressed. Located just off one of Tel Aviv’s busiest roads, the original 37 Templer buildings that had been part of the original settlement have been meticulously restored.
Sarona's main boulevard, Kaplan Street, was widened and became an area of cafés, shops and art galleries. The parks are truly lovely, the paths are tree-lined, lily ponds abound – all in the heart of a city dominated by thousands of blocks of flats!! The Visitor Centre documents the history and restoration of Sarona, telling the story of its devout, religious settlers, the later growth of Nazism and its important history during the British Mandate. One wine bar, which sits in an underground cave, had been built as a wine press by the Templers in the 1880s.
The newly renovated complex was opened in early 2014. Yet to come are festivals, street theatre, open air films, art fairs, and a music garden that will host classical music concerts and jazz festivals. And an even bigger food market.
Thank you to NaftaliTours. Contact them for English-speaking guided tours of Sarona in Tel Aviv, the First Station in Jerusalem and other important historical sites.